Prisons, pols and coming-out parties
BY CAROL MARIN firstname.lastname@example.org August 21, 2012 9:14PM
Former Chicago Ald. Wallace Davis, who served time in federal prison in the '80s for corruption, talks about a "coming-out" party he's throwing Friday for former Ald. Arenda Troutman, who served federal time for taking bribes. | Don Moseley photo
Updated: September 23, 2012 6:14AM
Over spicy catfish and fried shrimp at Wallace’s Catfish Corner on the West Side, former alderman/convicted felon Wallace Davis told me about the “coming out” party he’s throwing this Friday.
It will be a uniquely Chicago event. The $100 tickets read “Sista In Need.”
The “sista” in question is Arenda Troutman.
Like Davis, she too is a former alderman and convicted felon. In federal prison since 2009 for taking bribes and campaign cash from developers, she was released in June to a Salvation Army halfway house on Halsted Street. She works for minimum wage at a South Side restaurant.
“I am really happy that this part of my life journey is coming to a close,” Troutman, who is 54, told me by phone Tuesday. “My outlook on life is completely different now that I have come full circle.”
Plenty of people may roll their eyes as they read this. Chicago, after all, has seen 30 of its aldermen go to jail since 1976.
And Troutman did not inspire much sympathy when the FBI raided her 20th Ward home as she was shredding documents. Or when she was caught on a federal wiretap comparing colleagues to prostitutes, saying, “Most aldermen, most politicians, are hos.”
Troutman’s tone today is different: “Now I’ve walked the path that plagues our community at an alarming rate. And now my perspective has a depth that is unmatched by any experience I had before.”
“We don’t forgive people,” said Davis, who in the 1980s did hard time in federal prison on corruption charges. “Arenda can make a contribution, redeem herself.”
Troutman completed a two-year course in prison to become a paralegal. She hopes to use that training to mentor young people.
Ironically, there are people in her former political world who could use her services. Like her own mentor, Bill Beavers, the federally indicted former alderman and county commissioner who goes on trial Dec 3 on charges of misusing campaign funds.
Or a regular customer at Wallace’s Catfish Corner, indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith, who was just expelled from the Legislature.
Davis, who today dwells in the same house where two other convicted felons once lived — father and son Aldermen William and Isaac Carothers — understands people’s cynicism.
But he also believes in second chances.
And now for Troutman.
“We can always identify a wrong but not talk about the right. When do you become whole again?” he asked.
Arenda Troutman, single mother of three teenage sons, is working toward that wholeness.
Whatever we may think about Chicago’s sordid political history, she’s done her time. Paid her debt.
We should cheer her on.